The number of all mobile devices accessing the Internet worldwide will surpass 1 billion by 2013. In addition, the number of users of mobile devices will double by the end of the year! The mobile Internet is ramping up exponentially faster than the desktop Internet did or will ever realize. This dramatic increase in adoption of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has crystallized a collective focus on mobile learning (mLearning), specifically, how to best leverage the mobile platform for training and extended learning. Training thought leaders need to plan today for anywhere/anytime training using mobile devices. Mobile learning initiatives need to be driven as an extension of business and learning initiatives, and just not by the “shiny penny” syndrome.
Why Mobile Learning (mLearning)?
Leveraging the mobile presence, device capabilities, and unique extended learning potential of mobile platforms is essential. There is little to no valid argument against the extension of training to the mobile platform, but the best use of this environment depends on your overall organizational needs and drivers. Some common drivers include :
- Ease of Access. The mobile device, unlike desktop computers (or even laptops), is always available. Even more than your American Express card, you don’t leave home without it. The high availability of mobile devices extends training by allowing for delivery at the right place and right time.
- Convenience. Even office workers are not at their desk over 30% of the time. mLearning allows learners to fit learning into their lifestyle, consuming training at locations other than their desk and use their time more effectively. Smartphones and tablets are personal, private, and familiar devices that reduce the barriers to learning.
- Just in Time/Place Training. Mobile training allows learners to access training when they need it and, just as importantly, where they need it. Flying out to a customer site and need to learn more about a particular solution your company sells—a mobile learning solution allows for learning at the airport. At a plant, working on fixing a machine—a mobile training solutions allows a tech to pull up the process or even send a photo or video to an off-site engineer to help.
- Connection to Environment. Smartphones can offer a strong connection to the trainee’s environment. Most devices are location and orientation aware through their GPS. These devices typically also have cameras with video capabilities that allow trainees to interact with their environment. For example, you can set up location-aware training that discusses the history of a particular location. We have used device cameras to read QR codes attached to an object (just about any object) that direct the learner to more information specific to that object.
- Social Learning. Smartphones offer strong capabilities to enable social learning. Sharing of multiple modes/formats of information (email, instant messages, SMS, MMS, photos, and videos) with the trainee’s social network is easy on mobile devices, as most of them have apps dedicated to those functions.
What changes are coming to mLearning?
Changes in mLearning are being driven by the increased capability of mobile devices. mLearning was initially learning delivered on smartphones/PDA—not necessarily full online courses but bits of “just in time” training—videos, audio podcasts, quick tips, etc.
Tablets, such as the iPad, are changing some of the parameters of mLearning. The additional screen real estate (quickly approaching the capabilities of the desktop PC), the ease of using the tablet interface, and the significantly greater processing power allow us to deliver more types of training and media than ever before. We can also now reuse content meant for desktop browsers, but extended to further utilize the device and user interaction benefits that are unique within the mobile environment.
Furthermore, content creation systems that allow you to create and re-purpose content for mobile devices are becoming available. Learning Management Systems allow you to deliver, measure, and report on learning for mobile devices. Mobile Learning is becoming easier to create and use as the infrastructure for creating and managing content on these devices becomes available.
It is a great time for learning departments to experiment with and learn about mobile learning. Do remember, like any other learning project, mobile learning projects must be driven by business goals.